House to pass bill extending authority for overseas surveillance of terrorists

The FISA Amendments Act was developed near the end of the George W. Bush administration, when intelligence officials said surveillance was being delayed by the need to get court approvals to conduct surveillance against overseas terrorists. Intelligence agencies said they were missing much of the intelligence they might be able to gather because of these delays.

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The FISA Amendments Act, which was signed into law in July 2008, fixed that problem by allowing the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to jointly authorize overseas surveillance of people for up to one year, before court approval is given, if they see a critical and timely intelligence need. But the law requires these agencies to adhere to certain guidelines, and this authority was intended to be used rarely.

The original bill was passed in 2008 after a compromise was reached with Democrats aimed at putting in place tougher procedures when the target of overseas surveillance is a U.S. citizen. The law requires a court to authorize the targeting of U.S. citizens, and these court orders can be subject to judicial review.

The 2008 bill also provided retroactive immunity for telephone companies who cooperated with the administration on warrantless phone taps related to various 9/11 investigations.

If the votes in 2008 are any guide, the bill should be able to pass the House and the Senate. The original bill was approved in  293-129 vote that split Democrats nearly evenly, and was supported by nearly every Republican.

It passed the Senate 69-28, a vote that also split Democrats but saw every Republican vote in favor.